A suicide car bombing outside the Lebanon city Arsal Saturday killed three soldiers and injured four others. The bombing on the Aqabet al-Jurd army checkpoint is in a long line of sectarian violence that has spilled into Lebanon from the Syrian civil war. The country is deeply divided between groups supporting President Bashar al-Assad and those backing the Syrian opposition.
The attack follows only two weeks after the capture of the Lebanese town, Yabroud by the Syrian army. The town is a strategic path for arms and goods into Syria. A group who calls themselves, the Ahrar al-Sunna in Baalbek Brigade which translates to “Brigade of the Free Sunni Muslims,” took credit for the attack on their Twitter page.
Many speculate the attack on the Lebanese army was an act of revenge for the death of Sunni member, Sami al-Atrash, who was suspected in the car bombings against the Shiite Hezbollah. Lebanese soldiers tracked Atrash back to his hideout in Arsal, killing him in a house raid. Army leaders had described him as being a “dangerous terrorist.”
A speech leading up to the weekend by Hezzbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah may have also fueled the attack. In the speech, he defended his decision to send Hezzbollah soldiers into Syria to fight alongside President Bashar al-Assad. Much of the Syrian opposition is made up of Sunni Muslim groups. “The problem… is not that [the] Hezbollah went to Syria, but that we were late in doing so.”
The Ahrar al-Sunna in Baalbek Brigade, in camp with many other Sunni groups, have accused the Lebanese army for sympathizing, and even aiding the pro-Assad Syrian army. The car bombing on Saturday, which killed three soldiers, is an eerie reminder of Lebanon’s history. The confusion in the country over support for Syria or its opposition has created a new wave of violence in a nation which only recovered from its own 15-year civil war in 1990.
Tensions along the border of Syria and Lebanon have risen in the past months after an offense by the Syrian army spilled over a great number of Syrian refugees and soldiers. Lebanese lawmakers are shuffling to deal with the crisis in Syria while trying to control internal violence. The number of Syrian civilians fleeing the country continues to rise, now making up one-fourth of Lebanon’s population.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Tammam Salam, appointed in April of last year was set in a ten month political deadlock, unable to form a government of Hezzbollah supporters and his own Sunni-led coalition. It was announced, however in mid-February that a new government had been formed. The newly collected group will forge ahead, tackling the issue of Syrian alliance and the influx of refugees.
“I extend my hand to all…leaders and I depend on their wisdom to achieve [our] goals,” said Salam. “I call on them all to compromise for the sake of [Lebanon].”
A number of groups believe Lebanon is in danger of internal war yet again, as the violence seeps over from Syria. With the number of car bombings and other attacks rising, the killing of three soldiers Saturday is only one event in a pile of problems to resolve for the new Lebanese government.
By Erin P. Friar